The phrase “I love you” can mean many things in the English language. The Greek language of the New Testament is more precise. For example “I love (Greek Eros) you” means ‘I am romantically attracted to you,’ while I love (Greek Storge) you” means ‘l like your characteristics,’ while “I love (Greek Agape) you” means ‘I love you whether you deserve it or not,’ and I love (Greek Phileo) you means, ‘I have a close relationship and affection for you.’ Each of these loves is noble in its own way, yet some apply to the Christian life more than others.
One of the most common conversations around the uses of the word love comes from John 21:15-17. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three separate times. The first two times, the Bible uses the ‘agape’ word for love, which is understood to be a general meaning of the word. This love is not based on deserving love, but rather it is unconditional and based on our responsibility as a follower of Christ. This love is kind and generous. It continues to give even when the other person is unkind, unresponsive, and unworthy. It only desires good for the other person and is always compassionate.
But the third time that Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, he uses ‘Phileo,’ which speaks of affection, fondness, or liking the other. This love is companionable and relational. It’s brotherly and friendship love. While agape is a more common meaning of love that is shown to a person whether they deserve it or not, it is interesting Jesus chose to use ‘Phileo’ as a way to force Peter to think more deeply. He wanted to know if Peter loved him not just because of his role as Messiah and Rabbi, but rather that they had built a deep and intimate relationship. He wanted to know that Peter cared about him as a person and a brother.
When I was a young boy many years ago I was intrigued by a man who brought his invalid wife to church services every Sunday. This lady was unable to care for herself or to even respond to anyone in anyway. When I asked the husband why he brought his wife to church he told me that he had made a vow to love her when they married and he knew she loved being at church. I’m humbled by the devotion this man had for his wife and also by the many ways I see profound displays of love around our congregation every day.
We need to develop relationships in or lives with people who will ‘agape’ love us, but also who will ‘Phileo’ love us even when we are frustrated, angry, and disillusioned. We need to offer that to others. The Bible refers to the church as a body, a marriage, and a relationship of people with God. In other words we are all closely connected to one another. That’s why church attendance is so important. This is why it is so vital to know the people of our congregation so well.